Byline: Sara Olkon
BHOPAL, India _ Aliya Bano woke to the screams of children.
She retched as burning vapors filled her lungs. She thought, ``I can't breathe; I will die.''
She didn't. Her husband, two sons and their wives did.
Eighteen years later, Bano, now 60, is still waiting for compensation from the U.S. company she holds responsible for their deaths.
It was just after midnight on Dec. 3, 1984, when a storage tank burst at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, unleashing 40 tons of methyl-isocyanate into the early morning air. The poisonous gas _ a precursor for a pesticide called Sevin _ swept with a stubborn certainty over the shantytowns surrounding the plant, choking the confused as they lay in beds of straw. Men and women grabbed their children and ran for their lives, bursting their lungs with the deep inhalations.
The official count from the Indian government: 3,800 dead and 11,000 disabled. The count by several activist groups: 20,000 dead and more than half a million physically injured.
The devastation persists for the 1.9 million people living here, a stain on the country's mental landscape. Outsiders invariably associate the once-majestic capital of Madhya Pradesh state with death and suffering. The city of Bhopal is about as popular with tourists as Chernobyl, where the world's worst nuclear accident occurred.
Bhopal is unfinished business.
The site is still dirty. Victims battle lingering illness. Jobs lost to the accident have not been replaced. The criminal case remains unresolved.
The now-abandoned plant stands like a rusty skeleton of metal and tanks. Meandering cows and jittery street dogs inspect discarded candy wrappers lying in sewage on streets overlooking the plant. On the cement wall outside, someone has painted a skull and the words, ''Dow: Living Poisoned Daily,'' an anonymous slam on the corporation that acquired Union Carbide in 2001. Nearby, a gray, crumbling statue memorializes the anguish of a Bhopal victim, a woman clutching her dead baby.
Before the tragedy, the …